sound it out

From birth to age six, language is an area of great and rapid development for children. You might know that to be obvious, if you have a baby or been around one. We babble and coo and talk to our infants, waiting for that special first word. All that time they are learning as they listen. But once a child starts to speak and reaches the milestone of the first word and the first sentence, it is easy to forget the importance of language in a child’s life. Often, we are jumping ahead to a big milestone: reading. 

But in between there is plenty of growth and learning happening – pronunciation, proper use of pronouns and verb tense, vocabulary enrichment, and verbal story telling to name a few. Reading to your child is a wonderful way to aid your child’s developement, and is fairly well understood. We all know reading to children is important, so by all means, keep it up. But letting a child learn to express themselves and express their ideas often is also wonderful tool for letting them practice language skills and develop their own ideas. This is an important foundation to learning to read other people’s thoughts and ideas in books. A major principle in the area of language in a Montessori environment is let a child learn to express their own thoughts first, through oral and written language. Then, as they discover they can read what they wrote, they can begin to read other people’s ideas. After they know their own thoughts and have sufficient practice, they can grasp what other people have to say.

Ideally this should be a smooth, fun-filled journey of discovery for the child, one without worksheets and hounding a child to practice writing or reading. Obviously, this is not always the case. One was to make learning about language more fun is to play sound games. In the Montessori classroom, a teacher would have a box with small objects, such as a coin, a small bag, a replica of a turtle, any object that is easy to manipulate and easy to recognize. The teacher would remove three objects and carefully name the beginning sounds for the child. The child could try it if they wanted. The home environment will differ in how you present this material. At home with my son, we would go through as many as he wanted to do, initially doing the beginning sounds. Later, we tried to name just the ending sound. After beginning and ending sounds is trying to identify middle sounds. This is one activity that helps lead to a child who can use phonetics to sound out words to write. In the Montessori classroom, this would be with the moveable alphabet. At home, it might be with an alphabet or with a pencil. What makes this game so much fun at home is the box is filled with so many captivating small objects the child is eager to look them all over. It is great when the child makes the leap to realize they can name any beginning sound with all the household objects around them, moving beyond the box.

This is when another game can be introduced – around the house, on the road, waiting in the doctor’s office. It is basically I Spy but with beginning or ending sounds. This is for the child that has a good grasp of the sounds and familiar with I Spy in another format (items with certain colors or shapes, etc). If you are not familiar with I Spy, an example would be “I spy with my little eye something that starts with a ‘tuh” (t for table, in this example). The child is then invited to look around and make a guess. Then they can take a turn spying with their little eye while you guess.

All this sound work lays a foundation for the beginning of writing phonetically. Playing the games gives a child the sound, not the name, of the letter. Rules of spelling and complex words will come later. To encourage an eager writer, and later reader, sounding out is the best and easiest start.

Below is a list of the words to help you with the sound a letter makes. Of course this is not true in all words, but that comes later. These are the most common sounds for the letters and what will aid in writing and reading. Since most children are likely to learn the ABC song, and hear others around them refer to letters by their name, we find it easiest to clarify that all letters have names and sounds. To explain this to big E when someone watched him write his name and said “Nice E!” I said “Your name begins with the sound ‘eh’. The letter’s name is ‘ee’.” Problem solved!

When saying a sound do not include the vowel sound after it. Isolate the initial sound. This is a list for showing the sound at the beginning of the word. (This list is also available on the left sidebar as a page by itself.)

a= apple

b= bag

c= cup

d= dog

e= egg

f= frog

g= gap

h= hum

i= igloo

j= jump

k= king

l= lamp

m= mom

n= nut

o= octopus

p= pig

q= queen

r= rabbit

s= sun

t= top

u= up

v= vest

w= winter

x= box (end or middle sound)

y= yarn

z= zebra

I hope this can jump-start some fun language games at your home or on a long (or short) car ride. Many more ideas are available in books about doing Montessori education in the home if you are wanting to do more with your child, whether it is in language, mathematics or just setting up a home environment with their needs in mind.